With the economy struggling to add jobs and people anxious every time the mailman comes wondering what bill arrived today, some may ask if it is appropriate to talk about solar energy.
The answer is, anytime is good to talk about it. The next answer most people ask me is what is the payback period for solar energy. If you visit websites of various solar energy companies you will find that there is no concrete answer. The reason is there are too many variables. It is really hard for solar energy companies to predict how much energy a person will use. And many governmental incentives have been removed.
The basic components of solar energy are as follows: Solar panels. These can either be stationary or they can track the sun. Think of the sun's movement. It rises in the east and sets in the west. During summer it is more directly overhead and during winter it is lower on the southern horizon. So, if we drew a line for the suns movement at the winter solstice and the summer solstice, it would create a box in the sky. The sun can be at any point in that box during the year. Stationary solar panels have to be aimed at the middle of that box. That means when the sun is at the edge of that box, your solar panels are not operating at maximum efficiency. Solar panels that track the sun can aim themselves at the sun regardless of where it is in the box.
So, with that in mind it is obvious that tracking solar panels are a little more complex. The mechanism that holds them has to have electronic eyes that position horizontal and verticle. Now while these things are pretty small and simple looking they are also one more level of parts that can fail. Solar panels that are stationary are simply bolted to the roof.
Another variable with solar energy is if the user (homeowner) is going to use the energy immediately, store the energy and/or set the system up to supply energy to others. The way to visualize these is to imagine that you have a large tank for water on the top of your house. When you pump water into the tank you can either save it for later, pump it to the neighbors, or if the tank is full, let it pour out on the ground. Electricity behaves kind of like water except that it can go uphill.
Laws vary from place to place but basically the government says the electric companies have to let you sell them energy back if you generate more than you consume. Meters on your house are suppose to be able to go backwards. So, during peak solar times, if you are away from your home and using very little electricity, the surplus you generate should cause your meter to run backwards. In the end, if your bill is less, you pay less. Theoretically the solar panels you put on your home will generate less electricity than you consume. In a few instances, it will cause a credit to be listed on your electric bill.
Another reason people look to solar is the idea of a carbon footprint. Many are concerned about global warming and want to impact the planet as little as possible. That is a very good thing. However, many of the summaries of the benefits of solar energy omit some details (the same is true with hybrid or all electric cars). To fully evaluate the impact on our environment, a person would have to have accurate numbers as to the cost, maintenance and disposal of solar energy versus coal or nuclear. These are really hard numbers to find. One statistic I found was that to supply the entire US with solar, one would have to completely cover the entire state of Colorado with solar panels. Not a good option.
So, is solar good for a homeowner, yes, it very well could be. A lot depends on the location and orientation of your home. And some depends on continuously changing government credits and requirements. If you need more information, please call me or email me at the address below.